Description of Major Muslim Communities in India – Ahbans and Bisen

This is my second post looking at some important Muslim communities in India. All the communities looked are members of the Khanzada community. The Khanzada or Khan Zadeh are a community of Muslim Rajputs found in the Awadh region of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India.

The Khanzada comprise a large numbered of dispersed intermarrying clans. These exogamous groups are made up of myriad landholding patrilineages of varying genealogical depth, ritual, and social status called biradaries or brotherhoods scattered in the various districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh. The biradari, or lineage is one of the principal point of reference for the Khanzadas, and all biradaris claim descent from a common ancestor. Often biradaris inhabit a cluster of villages called chaurasis (84 villages), chatisis (36 villages) and chabisis (26 villages). Important biradaris include the Bachgoti, Bais, Bhale Sultan, Bisen, Bhatti, Chauhan, Chandel, Gautam, Sombansi and Panwar.

The sense of belonging to the Rajput community remains strong, with the Khanzada still strongly identifying themselves with the wider Rajput community of Awadh, and often refer to themselves as simply Rajput. This is shown by the persistence in their marriages of Rajput customs, like bursting of fire crackers and sending specially made laddoos to biradati members. Many members of the community continue to serve in the armed forces of India, an activity traditionally associated with the Rajputs. However, like other Indian Muslims, there is growing movement towards orthodoxy, with many of their villages containing madrasas.

I also wish to add a quick word about the term Taluqdar, which appears quite a bit in this post. Taluqdar in Persian literally means a holder of a Taluq, and were often appointed during the period of Mughal rule in India. A Taluq was district usually comprising over 84 villages and a central town. The Talukdar was required to collect taxes, maintain law and order, and provide military supplies/manpower to the provincial government (similar to the role of feudal lords in Europe). In most cases the Talukdars were entitled to keep one tenth of the collected revenue. However, some privileged Talukdars were entitled to one quarter and hence were called Chaudhry, which literally means owner of the fourth part. As Mughal authority weakened, the taluqdar became independent rulers, only paying lip service to the Nawabs or rulers of Awadh. The khanzada families made a large part of the taluqdari class in Awadh. This semi-independent status ended when Awadh was annexed by the British in 1856.

 

Ahbans

The Ahbans Khanzada are Muslim converts from the Ahbans clan of Rajputs, who are found mainly in the Awadh region. According to William Crooke, the word Ahbans probably comes the Sanskrit ahi, meaning dragon,” which may have been the tribal totem, and bans meaning clan. The Khanzada or Muslim branch of the tribe are found mainly in Lakhimpur Kheri and Hardoi districts of Uttar Pradesh. The Ahbans provided the taluqdar families of Kotwara, Jalalpur and Raipur, and the zamindars of Bhurwara, Ghursi, and Amethi.

Origin

According to their tribal traditions, they are descended from two brothers, Gopi and Sopi, who are said to have been members of Chavda Rajput community of Gujarat. The Chávaḍás are connected with the Chápas of Bhinmal and Chápa of Wadhwan, medieval dynasties that ruled in western India, and maybe of Gurjara origin. Some scholar believe they originated from Indo-Scythian community, who were also based in western India. Their origin is also placed in Saurashtra where their capital was at Deobandar near Somnath. Dharanivaraha of Vardhamana’s grant mentions the etymology origin the word Chapa or bow of Shiva. The Chavda dynasty ruled region of modern-day northern Gujarat, from c. 690 to 942. Variants of the name for the dynasty include Chapa, Chahuda, Chávoṭakas and Chāpoṭkata.

 

The two brothers, Gopi and Sopi, are said to have come into Awadh shortly after the overthrow of Chavda rule in Gujarat. They were said to have been living in Anhalwarra Patan, the capital of the Chavda Dynasty. The brothers then went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Gaya around, around the tenth century AD. On their return, the brothers settled in Gopamau and Bhurwara in Lakhimpur Kheri District. Gopi established his control over Pargana Gopamau, in Hardoi, and a descendant of the latter took possession of Pataunja, near Misrikh, in that Pargana. They became effective rulers of Kheri during the period of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, a position maintained until the arrival of the British in the 19th Century.

 

Groups of Ahbans started to convert to Islam during the rule of Bahlol Lodhi, the Sultan of Delhi, who appointed his nephew Mohammed Farman Ali, also known as Kalapahar, as governor of Bahraich. This Kalapahar is said to have induced the conversion of the Ahbans ranas of Lakhimpur Kheri to Islam. The Ahbans Khanzada provided the taluqdar families of Kotwara, Agar Buzurg, Chauratia, Kukra, Jalalpur, Raipur and Gola. The author of the colonial Gazetteer of Lakhimpur Kheri writes as follows about them:

 

The Ahbans number over 3,000 souls, of whom the majority are Muslims; their dominions were once very extensive, covering about 4,000 square miles in Kheri, Hardoi and Sitapur and including in thie district the belt of land between the Jamwari and the Kathna and stretching northwards to the Chauka; at present, owing to the force of circumstance~, their property is greatly reduced, but this tract is still full of members of this famous clan.

Of the Muslims, the converted Ahbans hold 82 villages.

The Ahbans of Lakhimpur Kheri, were the effective rulers of the region, till the arrival of the British in 1856. Many of their vast estates once owned by members of this clan, both Hindu and Muslim, were lost, although several families remained as taluqdars..

The first Ahbans to have converted to Islam was said to be a Rajah Mal Sah, who is said to have gone to Delhi, the capital of the Mughal Empire, during the reign of Shah Jahan. Included in his descendants were two brothers, Baz Khan and Fateh Khan, and during their time all Bhurwara was seized by the Saiyids of Barwar. Both brothers left numerous descendants, and after the overthrow of the Sayyids in the early 18th Century, the Ahbans recovered most of their lost possessions. Baz Khan had twelve sons, of whom eight left no issue, while from the two elder sons, Sangi Khan and Tarbiat Khan, descend the taluqdars of Kotwara, Jalalpur and Raipur, and the zamindars of Bhurwara, Ghursi, Amethi and elsewhere. Fateh Khan’s descendants moved north and settled around Kukra and Gola, acquiring between 1821 and 1832 a large tract of country. During the last ten years of Awadh rule, the .Ahbans suffered very heavily at the hands of their Hindu kinsmen of Mitauli and the taluqdars of Oel and Mahewa. Lone Singh seized Kukra and Mailani; the Raja of Oel swallowed up Bhurwara, Chaurathia, and Siathu; and the Thakur of Mahewa took Bansi and Saunkhia Sunsarpnr. They thus were deprived of 72 villages, all mortgaged or sold for very inadequate sums and under great pressure; the owner of Siathu being subjected to torture and threatened with death. The Khanzadas only recovered half of these by redemption of the mortgage, and in 1860 there were several large estates owned by the Ahbans. In addition to the three large taluqas there were the Muslim properties of Chaurathia, Gola and Kukra and the Hindu estates of Bansi and Saunkhia Sansarpur, as well as many smaller properties in Aliganj, Haidarabad and Paila, although located in Lakhimpur Kheri district.

 

Jalalpur Estate

Tarbiat Khan had three sons, the eldest being Muhammad Hasan Khan, who held Jalalpur in the early 18th Century, when he owned twelve nankar villages in addition to his share in the family estate. He was succeed by lbadullah Khan, with whom the British authority’s, after their takeover of Awadh, granted 13 villages in Aliganj under the name of Agar Buzurg. During his lifetime he made over the property to his son, Niamatullah Khan, who died in 1868 and was succeeded by his widow. At her death in 1884 a relative, named Muhammad Lutfullah Khan, obtained the estate by purchase. The Kotwara estate consisted of the Mirzapur taluqa of eleven villages and one mahal in pargana Bhur, and two villages, known as the Jalalpur estate, in Paila.

 

Kotwara Estate

From the second son of Tarbiat Khan come the zamindars of Bhurwara and Cbaurathia, and from a third came Qadar Bakhsh, who in 1801 eastablished control over a large area, with the aid of Awadh revenue officials. He held it till the British annexation, with whom he sought confirmation of his estate. He died in 1859 and the property, then comprising 24 villages in Karanpur and Haidarabad, assessed, passed to his widow, Chand Bibi, who held it for her infant son, Azmatullah Khan. The latter died, and the widow continued in possession till her death in1886. She was succeeded by-her daughter’s son, Saiyid Raza Husain, whom she had adopted. The estate eventually consisted of 14 whole villages and two mahals in pargana Haidarabad, and the Rampur Gokul estate of eleven villages and two mahals in Paila. The Kotwara taluqdars also owned a small estate of Pachhim Bilaon in Bara Banki. The present Raja is Syed Muzaffar Ali, who is a Sayyid, and not a Khanzada.

Raipur Estate

The taluqdar of the Raipur Estate were descended from Bahadur Khan, the younger son of Baz Khan. His descendants settled in the Sikandarabad pargana, and by degrees amassed a considerable estate. Over the 19th Century, taking advantage of week control by the Awadh authorities, acquired an estate at comprising 14 villages and one mahal in Haidarbadand the village of Pipra and one mahal of Kondri in Puila. The current Raja is Muhammad Sher Khan.

Sectarian Affiliation

While the taluqdar families are Ithna Ashri Shia, most farming families belong to the Sunni sect.

Distribution

Found mainly in Kheri, but a second cluster of settlements found in Bangarmau in Unnao.

In Kheri many are found in and around the town Bhira, Aliganj and Bijua.

 

Bisen

 

Moving on to the Bisen, who are largest in terms of numbers among the Khanzada community. There are in fact several distinct communities of Bisen Khanzada scattered throughout eastern Uttar Pradesh. Each has a different traditions as to its conversion to Islam. Perhaps the most famous Bisen Khanzada family is said of the taluqdars of Usmanpur in Barabanki District. This estate was founded by one Kaunsal Singh (also known as Raja Khushhal Singh), who obtained an estate as a reward for military service under the Mughal Emperor Humayun. One of his sons Lakhan Singh converted to Islam, and took the name Lakhu Khan. The estate of Usmanpur was founded by Ghanzafar Khan, who was confirmed ownership of Usmanpur and neighbouring villages by the Nawabs of Awadh.

In addition to the Rajah of Usmanpur, prominent Bisen families are also found in Balrampur District, where the zamindars of Mahua and Burhapara were substantial landowners.

The Bisen are found in the districts of Basti, Azamgarh, Sitapur, Faizabad, Barabanki, Sultanpur and Balrampur. They are generally Sunni, and speak Awadhi and Urdu.

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